Imagery of Regent people and campus

Passionate and Spirited Debate Marks Fifth Annual Clash

| October 26, 2007

Sen. Max Cleland, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Gov. Jeb Bush and Karl Rove flank moderator Charlie Rose.

The question raised at Regent University's Fifth Annual Clash of the TitansĀ® was bound to provoke passionate and spirited debate: Should America Bring Democracy to the World? The capacity crowd that filled the main theatre in Regent's Communication & Performing Arts Center on October 26 was not disappointed, as four of the most brilliant minds in the country tackled the question from their unique perspectives: Jeb Bush, former Governor of the State of Florida - Karl Rove, former senior advisor to President George Bush - former Senator and terrorism expert Max Cleland - and retired four-star General and terrorism analyst Barry McCaffrey. The debate was moderated by Charlie Rose, the Emmy-winning public television and radio journalist.

The gravity of the topic didn't keep the panelists or Mr. Rose from occasional good natured ribbing—beginning with Regent Chancellor Dr. M. G. "Pat" Robertson. In his introduction of Mr. Rose, Dr. Robertson mentioned that the moderator had once served an internship with a Hampton Roads law firm, but had abandoned the practice of law for a career in broadcasting. Rose then noted that in his business, Pat Robertson is known as a great guest, "because you never know what he's going to say."

Turning serious, Rose introduced the four panelists, honoring each as a patriot, acknowledging that all believe in democracy. He then put the question Should America bring democracy to the world? to each of them.

Karl Rove answered first, with conviction, "Yes. It's in our national security interest." Democracies don't attack their neighbors; they don't spread hate and intolerance; a democratic government is accountable to the people. In his answer, he quoted both Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt, and cited an impressive statistic: In 1950, there were only 22 democracies in the world. In 1974, there were 40 - and in 2007, there are 143 free or partially free democracies. This growth comes from the basic principle that people want to be free.

General Barry McCaffrey answered next, and got the second laugh of the afternoon when he complimented Gov. Bush and Sen. Cleland, and then said he didn't believe Karl Rove is really an "evil genius."

He prefaced his answer to the debate question by declaring himself a devout Christian committed to workable democracy. He said he had supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but cited what he called "the egregious arrogance of Donald Rumsfeld." He then likened the question to whether America should return the draft. "It's a parallel question because it underlies our political philosophy," he said, and noted that "neither is likely to happen." He cautioned against "the disaster of intervening in other cultures," and urged patience when introducing an alien concept like democracy on foreign countries.

Governor Bush agreed with Mr. Rove that America has a responsibility to engage those who are struggling for freedom, and offered four reasons:

  • If the United States doesn't do it, who will?
  • Support for democracy isn't done in isolation or against national security interests.
  • Echoing McCaffrey's call for patience, it must be done over the long term.
  • With the interconnection of all countries, the world is dramatically different, a much more dangerous place-America is no longer protected by its oceans.

Sen. Cleland spoke next, and earned the heartiest laugh of the afternoon when he gently jibed Mr. Rove by noting that they had one thing in common: They're both looking for work. He told the audience that America should bring democracy to the world - but only by example, not by force. "Leadership by example is hard, the toughest thing on earth," he said. "It's hard to be the person who doesn't compel you to follow, but lives in a way that you want to follow." He also quoted John Kennedy, Colin Powell and Ralph Waldo Emerson, urging selfless service, with military intervention only when America's own survival is threatened.

The panelists were then given the opportunity to put questions to each other, which spurred the most heated exchange of the debate. All agreed that they shared common positions, and all wanted to be beacons of hope to the world. But they differed greatly on America's proper approach: McCaffrey believes the United States has been compromised by our continued presence in Iraq and is actually creating terrorists by staying.

Bush argues that a spring 2007 poll of Iraqis indicates they prefer their current situation to living under the former regime, and that US forces must stay to ensure stability.

Cleland noted that in Iraq, as in any intervention, we must be prepared for it not to turn out our way, and reiterated that the best thing America can do is support democracy here and lead by example. He queried Gen. McCaffrey about the state of the Army, noting that resources are rapidly being burned out, and families are being destroyed as some of the troops are on their fourth tours. The General replied that "lots of people in uniform, 10 percent, shouldn't be over there at all," citing high school dropouts, moral waivers, drug violators. He garnered the biggest applause of the afternoon when he added that the other 90 percent of American troops are courageous and well led. But he cautioned they are quickly "coming apart" and urged Congress's support.

The longest and most heated debate was between Rove and Cleland, often speaking over the other, after Cleland asked why resources had been diverted to Iraq when Osama bin Laden hadn't been found. Rove came back quickly: "We spent every possible resource trying to find bin Laden, and it doesn't reflect well on our military to suggest that we didn't." When Cleland asked about Vice President Cheney's repeated claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the exchange became so loud that perhaps no one in the audience heard the reply.

Audience questions led to discussions about democracy in other parts of the world: Venezuela, Columbia, Cuba, Pakistan, China and Russia, where it was noted that democracy is rapidly deteriorating.

Mr. Rose concluded the questioning by asking what article in the U.S. Constitution authorizes America to bring democracy to the world?

Senator Cleland quoted the preamble—"to provide for the common defense," as a matter of our own strategic interest. Gen. McCaffrey noted the prohibition to "beware of foreign entanglements."

As their closing comments, each panelist focused not only on the debate question, but on its specific reference to Iraq:

Mr. Rove cited the democratic parliamentary government established in Iraq and recent elections, and urged staying the course and completing the job of democracy.

Gen. McCaffrey noted that Iraqis aren't searching for freedom; they're searching to overcome their enemies. He urged a higher commitment to conserve an international philosophy of respect and cooperation.

Gov. Bush yearned for bipartisan support to promote freedom across the world, citing America's moral imperative to go to the aid of the starving, the wrongfully incarcerated. America must stay engaged.

Sen. Cleland reminded the audience that Americans should be bearers of the light, and America the city on the hill. "In good conscience, with history as our judge, we need to ask for God's guidance."

Fittingly, the last word went to the moderator. Charlie Rose thanked the panelists, Dr. Robertson and Regent University for the opportunity to present disparate opinions. "We are all united in a love of country," he said. "Democracy burns in our hearts and history. There is and ought always to be the battle of ideas - and we must listen."


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